Monday, 5 December 2011

Made Your Christmas Complaints Yet?

Tis the season to be jolly. Tra-la-la-la-laaa. La la. La. La.

You know what? Even in these hard times there will be people who are jolly. Even those ones who, year in, year out, complain. And we all have something to complain about. We might be short of money. We might be struggling to find that perfect gift. We might be buying everything still at 7.30pm on Christmas Eve when we've told the lads we'll be in the Red Lion at 8. Whichever way, there will be stress, and annoyance, and inconvenience, and hardship. And credit card bills.

But it will still be the season to be jolly. Tra-la-la-la-laaa. La la. La. La.

I think my favourite complaint about the Christmas period is when it all officially starts. You know those people who put their decorations up in the middle of November? Jeeze... Don't you just hate those people? Well... no, actually. I just think they're a bit sad and misguided. How about those people who put them up on December 1st? Don't they realise it's over three weeks until Christmas? Of course they do. And December, to them, is the month of Christmas, so let them have their tradition. Twelve days before? Who says the twelve days of Christmas are before it?

Second to that is the people who harp on about how councils, businesses and organizations aren't allowing people to call Christmas "Christmas", and how it has to be "Happy Holidays" so it doesn't offend minorities and other cultures. I think last year I must have come across this complaint a hundred times, despite not finding any hard evidence of anyone anywhere actually banning the festive period from being what it is: the mad rush to buy as many commercially available trinkets, gadgets, mass-marketed hardware and objects as the world's financial state will allow. Plus over-eating and over-drinking.

That's pretty much what it's about, when it comes down to it. It's about giving gifts you know people will love, and getting things you'd like even if you didn't know you'd like them. It's about dinner as a family, drinks with friends, being with fellow workers without it being about work, and it's about sharing quality time with loved ones.

How many people do you hear complaining about "having to refer to Christmas as Happy Holidays" do you know, who go to church on Christmas morning to celebrate the birth of their Lord Jesus Christ?

Have a quick think about that while I quickly look up the names of the Three Wise Men and pretend in the next paragraph or two that I knew what their names were...

...almost there...

So, you thought about it. And if you do know someone who does all that Jesusy stuff, the chances are you've heard them complain about Christmas taken in the context I detailed above. Eating food? Drinking booze? Time with family? Pfffft! Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Our Lord Jesus H. Christ, not all that commercialized stuff. Why, there must be people out there saying they celebrate Christmas and hate it being called the Holidays that don't even know the Three Wise Men were Melchior, Jasper and Beckham. Sorry. Beetlejuice...azar. I think...

My point is: Christmas is really about what you want it to be. I mean, I've read a fair bit about Christmas traditions, and the Nativity, and so on. Three Wise Men... or Kings? And were there three? Or seven? Was one of them a woman? Posssssiiiiibbblllllyyyyyyy. The great thing about Christianity is that even they can't agree on what exactly happened at the nativity, where exactly it was, and when it was. Which, when you think about it, is a bit like two parents bringing their kids up with massively conflicting opinions, morals and attitudes, while trying to bribe the kids to their way of thinking with whatever annual reward they want.

And Lo, Christianity did shoot itself in the foot with that one.

Whenever you decide to start celebrating Christmas (if you do at all) just try and remember not everyone thinks like you. It shouldn't matter to you if someone is offended by you saying "Merry Christmas" because you probably haven't really thought about what deeply held but ultimately probably piss-poor reason they have for being offended by it. They've probably not thought about your deeply held but probably piss-poor reasons for being offended by their being offended.

Maybe if we all spent a little more time trying to make just one day in the year peaceful, joyful, and harmonious for everyone, regardless of what they believe the time of year to be in terms of historical or mythical importance, we could go one tiny step towards making the world a better place.

Or rather, the people on it a better people.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Friday, 11 November 2011

When Our Perils Are Passed, Shall Our Gratitude Sleep?

Yesterday I was going to post a blog that was quite a rant. Today I'm not going to.

The reason for being fired up and ready to roar was my perception of a lot of people's lack of understanding of the whole point of Armistice Day (or "Poppy Day" as some people call it, to my annoyance) and its place in society. Today I'm not quite so fired up, because I've had my moment in the solemnity of the day, I've seen so much more respect shown across the media that riled me, and I've trusted in my long held judgment that sensible people do stupid things without realizing it. I know. I'm quite often one of those people.

So, to those people I laid into yesterday for posting the insensitive and misinformed poem that was circulated on Facebook: I'm sorry. I've posted similarly inflammatory and inappropriate nonsense myself before without thinking it actually is.

To me, Armistice Day is a simple remembrance of something terrifying, horrific, shocking, and murderous that we in this day and age have no real concept of. That, I'm thankful for. It's a sombre recollection of the lives of millions of men and women who gave their lives, that others may live. Men and women from all over the world, in two significant wars that shaped the future of the world on so many levels it is rarely clear even when we're driving, listening to music, watching TV, eating and even just breathing. Yep, all of those activities probably wouldn't be what they are today without those two lamentable world conflicts. Don't believe me? Especially about breathing? Go do some research...

Lest we forget...

...that this Remembrance is not about national pride. It is not about who won and who lost. It's about the cost.

As a voluntary student of both world wars, it annoys me regularly when people forget the basics of accurate historical fact. I struggle to grit my teeth when the English tell people "we won the war" because the reality is that without American troops and Canadian factories we would have been doomed by 1942. When Americans tell people "You'd all be speaking German now, without us" I want to drill home the point that if they'd come into the war in '39 it would likely have been over by '41 when they decided to turn up. The there's the whole "French cowards" thing. As though the resistance movement and thousands of French servicemen that gave their lives did so running away, rather than risking torture and execution on a daily basis.

We will remember them...

A friend also pointed something out the other day that interested me, and is often completely forgotten: the service of "the colonies" that largely goes unmentioned in both world conflicts. I do know far too many people that seem to think the only activity of black people in either war is that of conscripted American GIs. No one remembers the Caribbean forces. No one remembers the African contingents, of whom there were many. I know. I've seen the Commonwealth War Graves in Gambia, and that's a tiny African country. Oh, and for the record: a Muslim country.

I will admit now that I'd not really given it much consideration until our trip to Le Somme a few years ago. Sorry Martin. But going there, and especially to the South African war memorial and museum really brought home how far we have come as a species. Not races: as a species. Did you know, during the Great War, black South Africans were in the trenches? They were stretcher bearers and messengers. They were only allowed spears. Seriously. Spears: welcome to racism, circa 1914. But whilst in that museum, I learnt that despite this obvious racism, those men went about their business with a dedication that was absolutely staggering. One story had me spellbound: of a young man who, under machine gun fire, left the trenches time and time again to drag his fallen comrades - all white - back to safety. He was severely wounded, and eventually had to be held back by his awestruck commanding officer, so severe were his own injuries.

Research Delville Wood. You'll find him.

Please, those of you who read this far, remember that Armistice Day is about remembering the dead of truly global conflict. It's not about England beating Germany, or America saving everyone's asses. It's not about how people can burn poppies now. It's not about editing history to suit an agenda. It's about sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, who gave their all, their lives, their memories, that we should be where we are now, for better or for worse.

Me, I don't like the way this world is run. But I know something: without their sacrifice I doubt I'd even be allowed to suggest that I don't care about the poppy burners and the white poppy wearers because I'd either be censored or imprisoned under a genuine totalitarian regime like the one they eventually crushed. If I was lucky...

Forget about those who would belittle Armistice Day. They are not worth your time. Remember those who it is for. They gave you this time.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, 28 October 2011

No One Here To Take Your Call

This is a blog inspired by a conversation my friend Mark Goulding had with Sheffield City Council when he rang them. In short, he was surprised that they employed someone to answer the phone and say "Sorry, there's no one here to deal with your call" so he rang back again later and got the same blurb from a completely different person.

We're used to machines answering calls to tell us there's no one available, right? Or if someone amazingly answers the phone, they're able to take the call. Because their number is the one we called to have someone take it.

Apparently not...

It seems that Sheffield City Council has hit on a new way of baffling the public, by employing people simply to answer the phone for departments that are probably now chronically understaffed. It's logical, if you think about it. Why pay 10 trained professionals to do a job for £25000 a year when you can pay an untrained person £15000 a year to inform the public the people they need to speak to are now down at the Job Centre, saving you a quarter of a million pounds per year? Apart from the 10 people telling you there's no one there to take your call for £150000pa...

It's still a hundred grand saved though, right?

But councils don't really work like that. So here's my vision of how the council reached their decision to employ people to take calls from people looking to have people take their calls even though there are now no people to take the calls that are being taken.

Still with me? Then I shall begin.

A committee of senior managers decides a meeting is needed to decide what job losses there will be. They book a conference centre, a caterer, hotel rooms and an events director to manage the whole shebang. The cost? A trifling £60000.

The committee decides that 10 departments can be trimmed of 50% of the staff. Not including themselves, of course.

Because the departments are now understaffed, it is decided that a committee needs to be set up to determine how best to deal with the calls that come in for the departments that now can't handle the calls. Conference centre. Caterer. Hotel rooms. Events director. 60 grand. Oh, and team building exercise booked for those that end up on the committee so they can get to know each other and "build a spirited amalgamation of inspired people working to the fulfillment of a long term enabled goal." Or something.

The committee is formed, 60 grand stuff happens again, and it is decided that what is needed is a fully automated, state-of-the-art windows-based telephone and email answering system that can manage calls for staff until they are able to take the call themselves, while directing customers to other possible places they can get the answers they seek, such as leaflets in local offices, websites, and the bloke next door who used to work for the council in the 70s. Even though he was on the bins.

The committee reviews the options and discovers the best systems developed are offered by companies in Germany, Japan, the USA, and New Zealand.

Committee representatives are dispatched, first class (because you need happy, rested staff to make important decisions) to Germany, Japan, the USA and Brazil on week-long fact finding missions at beaches - sorry - businesses, to determine which system will be most suited to their requirements. With a sensibly priced team of translators, of course. This comes to the cheap and cheerful price of £250000.

The committee returns to examine the findings, bringing in a private financial advisor to assess the budget implications, a technical director to put the complicated computery stuff into layman's terms, and a marketing consultant to convince the directors of the benefits of each of the systems. All of them a snip at £195000 per year.

The decision is made: they're going for the American made system. After narrowing the options down on three further visits to each of the tendering companies for a mere £750000. The system is imported, private contractors are brought in to install the system and a team of professional software engineers are taken on to rigorously test the system. All for just short of a million quid. Bargain.

The computer voice detection system can't understand the Sheffield accent. Bogga.

A local software company modifies the system to accept local dialect, and it's all for the reasonable price of £75000.

It now doesn't understand standard English, and most importantly it doesn't understand immigrant accents. The committee consult with the Equal Opportunities Commission and determine the computer system is racist and it gets scrapped. After several upgrades at a cost of just £10000.

The committee then decides it can save further by not having a computer system at all. It decides this at a conference centre (you know the drill, the cost) and they come up with the idea to create jobs by having people answer the phone to tell people there's no one in the department that can take their call. All for just £100000.

And that, folks, is how a local council can save £100000 a year.

Easy, isn't it?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Five Things I Want To Happen

1) Get Away With Spiking MPs with LSD

We've all thought at some point what a bunch of morons the people who run the country are. Whether you follow politics voraciously or really don't care one way or the other, the nation can agree that decisions are made and actions carried out on a day to day basis that prove not only are they out of touch with Jo(e) Public, but never have any intention of being in touch, because we might give them some ghastly working class oik disease. Sometimes they say or do something funny, even if it's not intentional or as a result of provocation, but generally speaking they're dullards to a (wo)man and this, I feel, needs to change.

All I want is one day. One day to get into the bar and the kitchen and generously lace their food and drink with acid. Particularly for something like Prime Minister's Question Time. Can you imagine it? Ed Milliband with his comedy voice, accusingly pointing a finger at David Cameron, watching it trail, and hearing his own voice echoing around Parliament like he's in an underground cavern, only to realise that his own lips are made of moleskin and his hair is being spun by silkworms. Mr Cameron, in turn, blinking rapidly, trying to focus on the Leader of the Opposition as all around him his cabinet begin to slowly float towards the ceiling, singing the Only Fools And Horses theme tune in the voices of a Gospel choir. Except for Eric Pickles, who is gripping his seat, fiercely fighting off the urge to eat Nick Clegg who's become an egg, run from William Hague, who has the plague, and play the Philip Hammond organ. They will collectively wonder why there's no music coming out of the Speaker of the House.

It could be a great moment in British political history.

2) Win a ridiculous amount on the lottery and spend it on...

Things the Daily Mail would hate. I'm not talking your whopping great £5 million jackpot here. I'm talking the ridiculous 100+ million ones. £5 million I could do a lot with. But it would be things I could do for me, my family, and my friends. No one in the world needs £100 million pounds, and I can assure you as confidently as I'm sure I'd never win close to that amount (because I don't play the Lottery) that I wouldn't spend £100 million on "investments" and leisure activities. No, here's my ideas...

First I'd pay the Council Tax for a year of every household in the Amber Valley council borough that lost at least one job as a direct result of banking mistakes and government cutbacks. I'd set up a housing development project that would provide 2-3 bedroom houses with a price tag of no more than £50000 for first time buyers, on the understanding that if they want to sell before the term of the mortgage is up they have to split the profits.

I'd also have a bronze statue of Bill Hicks made, then spend a lot of money campaigning to have it positioned to look down over Los Angeles, in the vain hope that one day the bronze eye of my own personal Jesus will look down over his hoped for Arizona Bay.

I'd also set up a small business dedicated to nothing more that the promotion of "alternative" music at key points in the major music industry's marketing plans. This would basically be paying the unemployed twice what a CD/mp3 costs to buy stuff that invariably doesn't make the top 40 singles when talentless morons like Rihanna, Simon Cowell products, or pretty much any dance music being touted as "fantastic" is likely to hit the top spot. Screw Rage Against The Machine/Nirvana/Whitehouse for Xmas #1. I want The Saturdays beaten to No. 1 by That Fucking Tank for the first chart topper of the new year, Sondura hammering Calvin Harris' face to a number two as summer ascends, and Max Raptor leaving Cheryl Coorrrrle looking like someone jizzed in her cuz-ah'm-wooorth-it hair come Christmas Day.

I care about money. I'd love enough to look after my loved ones. But £100 million? No. I'd pretty much give £95 million away.

3) See a revolution sweep across Europe

Ahhhh, the Arab Spring! Wasn't that great? Not only was it interesting watching nations we're told are largely extremist Muslim fanatics bent on Sharia dominance rising up as one in the name of democracy, but it also sounded a bit like either a sex aid or a form of contraception. Sex related, either way.

It got me thinking though. There are still people in the Western World that think we live in a democracy. Mainly because they don't know what "oligarchy" or "plutocracy" mean. There you go: links provided. Democracy only exists where you can see that the outcome of an election reflects the implementation of the manifesto of the candidate(s) you voted for. What we think of as democracy is a myth. Politics is an industry, and it's the only industry that's unregulated.

I work in the water industry, and if we turned around and said "We promise clean, drinkable water for eternity" and then pumped shit into your taps, you'd come lynch every one of us. But the clever ones amongst us would resist the rope by promising that when the shit-suppliers are gone, we will provide you with the promised clean and drinkable water for eternity. And then we'll pump the same shit at you, but it will taste different, so you'll be okay with that until you get sick...

I actually heard a politician on the radio say today, that what people want is elected officials who will use their best judgement to serve their constituents, not do their constituents bidding based on their election manifesto. Well why have a sodding manifesto? You may as well just knock on people's doors and say "Vote for me and I'll prove to you I'm clever and you're a moron."

Heads on poles, my friends. Heads on poles...

4) See The Montreal Canadiens Win Stanley Cup No. 25

The Canadiens are the greatest team in (ice) hockey history, I'm told. Largely by fellow Canadiens fans. We've won 24 Stanley Cups: the most prized shelf ornament in all of world sport. If you have a massive shelf and your concept of "the world" is North America.

Yeah, we've won 24. The next best is 11. The only problem is: when we won the majority of the Cups, there were only a couple of handsful of teams vying for it. Now there are 30. And we're nowhere near being capable of winning, while the city in which the team resides expects it ever year. Largely based on an era when sport was a game not a business, when players were workers not marketable products, and the truly great and good were worthy enough to have trophies and arenas named after them. Georges Vezina. Conn Smythe. Fuck you Ovechkin. Fuck you Crosby.

Where's the Gretzky Trophy? I digress...

Please. Just one more Cup. One more coach capable of walking the talk. One more superstar capable of gelling a team around him. One more goalie that reminds you of Luke Skywalker learning to use The Force... I'm sick of seeing an octopus thrown on the ice.

5) Become Famous Posthumously

The idea of fame horrifies me. I mean the big time celeb fame. I'm sure famous people like Terry Pratchett or Fred Savage can largely walk the streets unhindered, their fame being of a specific genre or era. I've even had that "Are you Ed Henderson?" moment of fame, believe it or not. But I was in an arena of 30,000 NHL fans and the only one wearing a t-shirt around the time the website was launched on Felt pretty good though!

What worries me about fame is the "free press". Let's say, just in a dreamworld, that one of the stories/songs/poems I've written over the years becomes famous. I can just imagine some scumbag from 20 years ago resulting in the tabloid headline "MY DRUG HELL WITH HENDERSON" or "TINY DICK ED" or suchlike. Because tabloids love stuff like that. I have taken drugs. Paracetamol is awesome. Not sure I took anyone to Hell when I had a backache though. And I'm not swinging a bratwurst between my thighs, but then I'm gentleman enough not to point out the coinflippers I've known over the years...

No, I'd be content to be gone a few years and someone like something I've written enough to circulate it widely enough for one of (my kids) Luke or Amelia's children to say "Hey! That was my Grandpa! He wrote about his hopes for an end to plutocracy and the restoration of the democracy we have now! Even in America!"

And that's about it. Five things I'd love to happen that will never happen!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Occupy Nowhere

Have you ever taken a good look at your bank account and smiled at the number of digits in the balance column? Have you ever peered through your window into your open garage and wondered whether to go out in the Ferrari, the Bentley, or the Range Rover? Have you ever worried that your shares might be about to take a big hit and been forced to lay off a percentage of your workforce just to protect your own investments? Have you ever had to bribe a Fleet Street journalist just to keep a picture of you snorting cocaine off the chest of a 15-year old Albanian ladyboy just to keep your good name clean?

The chances are that no one likely to ever read this will answer yes to any of the above, apart from possibly the first question. Even then it might be because the balance columns ends with a D. It's just occurred you might be able to answer in the positive to the second question too, if you have an Xbox or a PS3, but then that's not the point.

The "Occupy" protests and camps have made big headlines in the last couple of weeks. I like the idea, and if I had the time I'd definitely involve myself in the movement. I'd love to occupy Wall Street. I'd even be content to occupy London if I didn't have a natural loathing of the place. Ideally I'd like to occupy Belper, but there really isn't anything relevant to occupy that's a global tarnish on our local community except possibly McDonalds.

The problem for me is that while I agree with the sentiments and objectives of the Occupy Movement, I can't help but feel it's just another meek stand against a common enemy that not only disregards public opinion, but is isolated from public opinion simply by being something which is simply not part of the daily workings of the public. It's all very well complaining that 1% of the population control 40%, or 60%, or even 10% of the wealth of the nation, but the fact they have that wealth acts as a barrier to any protest that is carried out in a peaceful, orderly, passive fashion.

The recent riots in England are an example of how directionless we are as a "99%". The rioters took it upon themselves to destroy their own community. They were angry at nothing. They wanted nice trainers, and apparently bottled water. They set fire to 10-year old cars and smashed up struggling local businesses. We were horrified, saddened, and stupefied. But stick some intelligent folks in a camp protesting the gulf in wealth and you have no rioting, no vandalism, and very few arrests. I can't help but feel that while this is the right way of showing yourself to be a productive but jaded member of society, the impact being made is nothing more than a short-term media profile and a footnote in a history that will be written by oligarchs.

What we need is a 21st Century Robin Hood. Silly and fantasist? Possibly so, but short of an actual revolution to topple the magnates that are (whether you believe it or not) holding the working class to ransom the idea really isn't that ridiculous. There are clever people out there with computers and a socialist agenda that I am sure could royally screw some of the 1%. Just imagine if the Anonymous group or some other collective of hackers managed to break into the accounts of someone like Microsoft, Walmart, or practically any investment bank, and siphoned off their funds into the accounts of any individual bank account holder whose account was in the red. Imagine you could get the news out there: withdraw as much cash as you can... NOW!

It could be done. But it won't ever be done. We're just not angry enough.

It is often argued that "violence solves nothing", and this was an argument during the riots. Okay, so where do you think a lot of the money this 1% we keep hearing about get their money from? Investment in the global arms industry, mining and drilling for resources on lands of displaced people by often considerable force, and media empires that thrive on sensationalist headlines relying on war, death, murder, and all the horrors of society we don't like to admit we love reading about and watching. Violence solves a lot, if you have the resources, a goal, and an audience.

It would be better if the "Occupy" movements had the objective of getting us all to occupy nothing. Stop occupying supermarkets. Stop occupying fuel retailers. Stop occupying sport stadiums. Stop occupying the internet. Stop paying bills. Stop everything we know is lining the pockets of the already fantastically, unimaginably rich. Because if we all did, as one, it would have an immediate impact on them.

It would be done. But it won't ever be done. We're just not angry enough.

I wonder when we ever will be angry enough.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Goodbye, Darkest Summer On Ice

I've been a fan of hockey since I was 13 years old. In that time I've had the pleasure of seeing some truly amazing things. Well... amazing to me, anyway. I've seen the Montreal Canadiens play at the old Forum. Specifically there, the Good Friday Massacre. I've been to two All Star games, as a guest. I've followed some amazing careers, met some amazing people, and been involved in the creation of what I still think is the best hockey game ever devised. But hey... that's just my opinion!

On the downside, there have been those moments where horrible things have happened, particularly to people I've liked. Brian Savage's broken neck. Saku Koivu's cancer. Not good things, but things these people overcame. But there are some things that cannot be overcome, and this summer passed really brought that home.

Hockey rarely makes international news, and I wasn't surprised to find I could only find details of the passing of two NHLers online. But then hockey has been a largely online environment for me for (I suddenly realise) twelve years now. Access to North American sports isn't easy in the UK, and the internet made it easy. But when you get up in the morning and NHL players are being interviewed on the national news, you know something really really bad has happened.

At 1605, local time, on the 7th of September, 2011, the plane carrying almost the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team crashed, killing all but two people on board. I was stunned.

Throughout sport history there have been disasters involving teams. The Torino football club, the "Busby Babes", and the Four Broncos to name a few of the more noted ones. But I'd never heard of an incident where an entire club - as I knew at the time - had been killed in its entirity. I'm rarely lost for words, but that day... that day I was. To learn one player had miraculously survived with horrific injuries and another because he had been told to stay behind was no consolation. No consolation at all. Imagine being either of those people?

And that's my point. We think of teams as a unit, as a whole thing, an entity in itself. Yes, the crash and the deaths are shocking, but the individual losses go beyond that. These people had families as well as teammates. They had friends. They had their whole lives ahead of them. Their deaths were only as tragic as the two players who died earlier in the summer, and I use the word "only" in its loosest possible sense.

I tried to think how I would feel if the team that died that day were my beloved Montreal Canadiens. My beloved, underachieving, glory-days-are-long gone, superstar-less Habs. And I found myself smiling to myself after a moment of horror at the thought. Because, underachievers with no superstars, coasting on past glory though they might be, they are my team. No matter what happens, I support them. And I would grieve terribly if what happened to the Lokotiv team happened to them, just as I know their fans will still be grieving now.

But teams endure. Teams are made up of individuals bonded together by determination, spirit, and leadership. And a wage packet, if you want to be cynical. But largely all the former. The loss of the individual spreads further than the loss of the team...

The new NHL season starts tonight. I thought earlier "This marks the end of a summer to forget", and then reminded myself that, in context, it will never be a summer to forget, because the air disaster is unforgettable. But that just made me think about the two guys who died before then... and that made me think "All those guys will be remembered, because they were part of teams."

Remember your teams this coming season, hockey fans. Be thankful for them, even when they suck.

Those players we lost this summer:

Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Pavol Demitra, Josef Vašícek, Karel Rachunek, Jan Marek, Stefan Liv, Karlis Skrastinš, Ruslan Salei, Vitali Anikienko, Mikhail Balandin, Gennady Churilov, Robert Dietrich, Marat Kalimulin, Alexander Kalyanin, Andrei Kiryukhin, Nikita Klyukin, Sergei Ostapchuk, Maxim Shuvalov, Pavel Snurnitsyn, Daniil Sobchenko, Ivan Tkachenko, Pavel Trakhanov, Yuri Urychev, Alexander Vasyunov, Alexander Vyukhin, Artem Yarchuk and Alexander Galimov. Also, ex-players Brad McCrimmon, Alexander Karpovtsev, and Igor Korolev.

May they all rest in peace. May their memories live on through all the great and wonderful things they, their friends, their families and their fans have been a part of.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

I Have Alexander's Carcass Skinned In My Freezer. Simples!

It's been a while since I've had an invitation on Facebook to join a group dedicated to the abolition of the TV Licence fee. But last week I not only got one, but somehow got added to it automatically. On seeing I had been, I immediately left the group. Not specifically because I'd been added automatically, because I'll listen to any reasonable argument on any topic as long as it's well presented, but because of something that basically went like this:

"i fink its realy bad wot the bbc does askin us 4 all dis mony wen dey only av liek 2 or 3 epsiodes of eastendas on a week n theirs nuffin else on at all unless u liek news n borin stuff i wud rater wacth da compare da markats ads dey r well funy"

Well quite...

I'd scrolled down a few posts, and read a few comments, and come to the quick (if judgmental) conclusion that either these were posts from kids (who therefore don't pay the TV licence fee) or from people for whom intelligent and informed debate begins with and stops at The Jeremy Kyle Show. Which is fair enough as they're clearly watching it when it goes out, rather than recording it to watch when they get home from a job they'll never have.

Don't get me wrong, I can see why people look at the TV Licence fee and think "Why am I paying this?" because I've been a licence payer for over half my life. As far as I'm concerned it's all about value for money. When I got my first TV Licence of my own, age 20, I had the simple choice of BBC 1 & 2, Radio 1-4, local radio, and the World Service. At the time, the fee was £71 (yep, I looked it up). That translates as 8 services for my 71 quid. Or roughly £8.90 per service.

Look at the BBC now: BBC 1-4 for possibly the widest variety of broadcasting in the world, Radios 1-5, plus 6 digital radio options (at least), the red button broadcasts, BBC iPlayer, the BBC website, and still the World Services, and that's not including local TV and radio.

That's at least 20 services for £145.50. Or £7.28 per service. Yep...

£8.90 in 1990. £7.28 in 2011. Can you think of many other services you get nationally that have dropped in price over the years? I can't.

So by all means complain about the cost, but complain in a manner that has some value to it. Don't complain just because you think a dull and spun-out marketing strategy is more entertaining than, say, a political documentary you wouldn't have watched even if it had been interrupted every 17 minutes by a CGI meerkat or someone playing on your fear of global warming, being unfashionable, smelling like a human rather than some fruit, or pressuring you towards alcoholism. Don't pretend that you aren't paying for the commercial channels, and certianly don't pretend that you're "not affected by adverts", especially if you like those Alexander the fucking Meerkat adverts. You like them. They've done their job. When you need insurance you will think of using that service I shall not name...

Please don't think I'm tarring all anti-fee peoples with the same brush, because I'm really not. You can argue that the breadth of programming excludes your own personal choices so you're not using (for example) BBC 4, the red button, and so on. Yet you have that choice. You may think, as I do, that the iPlayer service is shockingly behind services like Channel 4 offer when it comes to what you can watch online. It's all about quality of service? Fine. The iPlayer is an example of how the BBC are getting it wrong. But it might get it right in the future...

Me personally, I love the BBC. They have some great programmes, and even I can't deny that flagship shows like Eastenders and Strictly Come Rejuvenate My Flagging Career have some entertainment value that, on the whole, is worth paying for. I'm happy to pay for it.

How about you?


I've just realised: my licence ran out last week...

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Designing A Death Metal Logo

In a break from the recent political and social blogs I have done, I've decided this time I'm going to put a bit of fun back into what I truly like doing. As people generally know, I am a big fan of metal. Not gold, or lead, or tungsten. I mean heavy metal, but I mean heavy metal. Of course, to the layman, it's all just noise isn't it? Over the years I've actually experienced someone tell me that there's no difference at all between Bon Jovi and Napalm Death. The funny thing is, as I've got older I've come to know this to be basically true. There are songs (of course, we call them songs, but they're just noise compared to Cliff Richard and Steps, aren't they?) by both of these bands I appreciate, so "heavy metal" they are.

Which brings me on to how my favourite genre of music is sub-categorized. There's your heavy metal. Then there's power metal. Thrash metal. Glam metal. Goth. Industrial. Black. Hardcore. Spermicidal. Avant-garde. Extreme. Nu. Symphonic. Groove. Shit. Death. Viking. And so on. No other genre of music, except what I broadly refer to as dance music, seems to have so many sub categories. But by far the funniest of these is Death Metal.

What amuses me about Death Metal bands is not the band names, or the music itself, or even the hilarious lyrics and vocals. What amuses me about Death Metal is the band logos. Oh, and before I start demonstrating the culprits with responses from fans going "Oh, but Spunkchristaren't Death Metal, they're, like, Drone Metal" you know what I bloody mean. I mean fast, dark, rigidly formulaic down-tuned 500bpm metal with vocals delivered by a man with laryngitis gargling caustic soda.

The logos may have well have fallen out of a cat's arse.

Example 1: Watain

Example 2: Leviathan

Those of you who might have a love or even a mild fondness for the genre may not have needed the name of the band mentioning before seeing the logo, and I wouldn't be surprised if there are dyslexic people out there who see the words "Water" and "Didgeridoo". Or alternatively two Rorschach test images of a sheep holding up a bank with a dried apricot, and a robot jesus feeding the 5000 with two London buses and a CD called The Best Of James Morrison, which has nothing on it. I know they do to me.

So, how are these logos designed, you ask? No, you do ask. That's where I'm going with this...

First of all, you need a band name. This is very important. You can't design a logo if you don't have a word. And it's important to have the right name. You can't call your Death Metal band FLUFFY KITTENS. Well... not unless you're being ironic, but I don't think it's unfair to suggest your average Death Metal fan lacks an appreciation of irony, otherwise there'd be a band at least called Jesus Huggers or something. No, your band has to be a powerful word, or something in foreign, or something likely to cause offense.

So we'll be working with the band name Wolfbagger.

The first step once you have your band name is to get some photo editing or graphic design software. Personally I use Jasc Paint Shop Pro 8, but this is only because I got a 30-day free trial of it about 3 years ago and it proudly tells me I'm on something like "Day 472 of your full 30 day trial".

Step One: Choosing a font
You need something that isn't easy to read. Times New Roman won't cut it. You want something either ridiculously cursive, or something spikily Teutonic or olde worlde. For our example we've chosen the Vivaldi Italic font, because it annoys me wherever I see it.

<<< As you can see from this example, using this font already renders the band name quite unintelligible.

Step Two: Making it look a bit stranger.

You can do allsorts to improve your logo at this stage, but what's really important in Death metal is the "spike factor". As you can see from the examples I gave, spikiness is very important. So get your pen/brush tool out on your editor and just start randomly adding spikes all over the name, like so:
I haven't added too many spikes in this example, mainly because I simply couldn't be bothered. But many death metal band artists often have more time on their hands than they imagine they have, sometimes even without a bag of weed and a bong shaped like an inverted crucifix.

Go nuts. Add as many as you like.

Note: at this point, if we were designing a Black Metal band logo we would at least one downward spike into an inverted cross and turn the letter O into an inverted pentagram, perhaps with a badly drawn goat head in it.

Step Three: Bulking it up a bit.

If you make your logo look too wiry it simply won't look macho enough. And macho, like black eyeliner and leather trousers, is very important in death metal circles. In the following example I've stretched the image vertically, converted it to a slightly smudged and blurred charcoal effect, and then added a "circle" filter to it so it's all bloated and unnecessary in the middle. Like a guitar solo.
It's still possible to identify the word though. Your best bet is use some sort of warping tool. Such things are usually called something like warp or drip or ripple. In this example we're using something called ripple.

Step Four: Black! Black! Blaaaaaack!

Death Metal is about image. It's simply essential you have white writing on a black background. By all means add nice red blood or a something, but make sure your now hopefully unintelligible logo is on a black background. I achieved this simply by making the picture a negative.

And there you have it! A perfectly ordinary looking band name that means absolutely nothing at all now looks like a two year old tried to write it on a cross-country bus trip after a litre of Sunny Delight.

And that, folks, is how all Death Metal bands come up with their logos!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Bring Back The Birch!

Not really.

I thought I'd start off with a nice right wing blog title, because some people who may read this might interpret the content as being of a right wing nature. I'm not for bringing back corporal punishment at any level of society just like I'm not in favour of bringing back capital punishment, betamax, or Jive Bunny. Of course, you could just as easily say that such punishments aren't a left or right wing ethic, but a widely held social opinion based on the state of society and personal experience.

Obviously what prompted me to write this is the state of society. The recent riots in England (I am advised to point out there were no riots in Wales, Scotland or even Northern Ireland, believe it or not) have been very interesting for me. I think the state of the country is rather bland socially or politically, most of the time. Unless something seriously sudden and attention grabbing is happening, no one really cares what's happening at all. It's why you're more likely to read about the Beckhams' new baby or see Kerry Katona talking about her latest battle with weight/cocaine/booze/pills/boyfriend/parents/fans/police/photographer/Iceland/Cradle Of Filth/children/ex/alien invaders. Society as a whole just doesn't interest us.

So something like rioting with no clear agenda is actually a really good thing. Okay, the rioting itself isn't. Rioting generally isn't, especially if it's you being rioted against. Gangs roaming the streets looting shops and destroying property isn't that unusual, but in this instance it was clearly large gangs with an obvious desire to take a police shooting and turn it into an excuse to run amok. But it turns out to be a good thing because it gives people something to talk about, sometimes in an adult and orderly fashion, unless you're Peter Hitchens on Jeremy Vine's Radio Two show today, in which case it gives you the opportunity to make yourself sound like an ignorant, pompous, rude twat who really should move to another country.

Here are some of the suggestions I've heard for dealing with the rioters this week:
  • "They should be whipped, like the animals they are."
  • "They should have their hands cut off for thieving."
  • "If they were responsible for someone's death they should be hung."
  • "Put the army on the streets. See how they like live ammunition."
  • "Cut off their benefits and take their council houses off 'em."
  • "Bring back National Service, and see how they like that."
If you're reading this and have thought or said any of these things: shame on you. Firstly, animals shouldn't be whipped. It's cruel. Secondly, the same people suggesting hand removal are invariably the same ones dead against Arabic customs... like cutting thieves hands off. Thirdly, hanging never solved anything, and America is evidence enough that capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime. Fourthly, historically, all putting the army on the streets has ever done is make the situation worse. It's not like our police can identify innocents from villains, so why would the army? Fifthly, if you're concerned that people on benefits in social housing are thieves, do you really think sinking them further down society's apparent gutter is going to make them any more likely to make them productive members of the public?

And that brings me on to National Service. This one pisses me off the most.

If you're not familiar with National Service, it's a concept that came about in mid-to-post World War times, whereby young adults were conscripted to serve in the military. It was mandatory, and not only did you have to have a very bloody good reason not to do it, but if you didn't you tended to find yourself shunned, considered lazy or cowardly. There are still a number of countries that have the system.

National Service is not a punishment. National Service is just what it says: serving your nation. It's really got under my collar that a lot of people calling phone-in shows, posting blogs and facebook comments don't seem to understand this. The people that did National Service in Britain weren't rioters! They weren't criminals. They weren't even unemployed or the considered lower classes. They were ordinary British Empire citizens who understood the way the country and the world had been, and they contributed to a system that was a necessity of the times.

If you think National Service would make a good punishment for "criminal classes", let me tell you now, in no uncertain terms, I think you're a fucking moron.

Thank you.

I do, however, think maybe it's time National Service was reintroduced. Not as a specifically military organization, but as a system of giving opportunities to people (not chavs, or slackers, or wasters, or however you want to belittle them) that otherwise don't have them. And it could be quite a simple system. Left school at 16 with no qualifications? How about a stint in National Service, kid? You'll learn discipline, how to work as part of a team, and you'll get training that might just help once you're done. Not interested? Okay, no problem.

You could ask this question once a year up until 18, and if they've done nothing but claim benefits and commit petty crime... bang: National Service just got compulsory. You're doing a 12-month stint in Her Majesty's armed forces alongside people widely regarded by the general public as productive members of society. You won't be given a gun, but you will find yourself washing uniforms in Basra, or sweeping parade grounds in the middle of nowhere in the winter.

What's the alternative? Seriously? We're talking largely about kids from urban slums who have known nothing other than what they and their parents have had handed to them from the government, and in some cases sadly it's become something to aspire to, for a lack of any other aspiration. Those kids in Tottenham may have rioted for what we think of as no reason, but rioting for no reason surely makes the rational mind wonder how they've come to do such a thing "for no reason"?

Back in the Eighties, after the Toxteth riots (yes, England has rioted before, kids!) the Government set up a "task force" to address the need to develop Liverpool into the thriving city it had once been. This was led by Michael Heseltine, considered a tough and out-of-touch millionaire politician, but I think history and Liverpools achievement as a European City of Culture will prove in years to come that he was the right man for the job, and that Liverpool has thrived under his guidance and planning.

The current government needs someone with ideas like Heseltine. I can't believe I'm actvely promoting a bleedin' Conservative, but the evidence speaks for itself. Ask anyone over 40 from Liverpool if it was better to live there in 1981 or 2011. The problem is they don't have anyone like that, and as far as I can see the only obvious solution to give the youth of today a positive opportunity to be productive and active for the good of society is either National Service or apprenticeships. And since we don't have any national industries to speak of, that's the latter option screwed.

For the record, if my concept of National Service was around when I left school, I most certainly would have volunteered. But then I wanted to be in the armed forces when I left school anyway. I'd be interested to know how others my age who found it tough to get a job would feel if they knew they'd had at least some opportunity, rather than becoming the unfortunate, unemployed parents and grandparents of the riotously lost and hopeless current generation.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Those Scumbags In London

I think it's sick.

There are people in the city of London, and indeed other cities, who are ruining this country. Their attitude right now is so counter-productive to what this great nation needs that I just cannot grasp their motives or how they seem to be getting away with it. The systematic destruction of the inner city areas, the problems on the streets, the obvious shortcomings of our police force, and perhaps most significantly the obvious implications of their actions on the financial and commercial aspect of what makes a nation are all laid bare for the world to see. We just can't let them keep getting away with it time and time again.

I am, of course, talking about the banks and their elected lackeys, our "government".

In the light of all the rioting that's dominating the headlines, it seems we've forgotten what a bunch of utter shits the people that run this country are. Worried about gangs running amok in Peckham? Then worry about large corporations moving their manufacturing overseas, so none of the kids in those gangs even get a remote hope of working in one of their minimum wage factories. Cars being set on fire in Birmingham? Worry about those families who no longer have a wage from the Rover factory in Longbridge. Oh, and that brave police force that's valiantly fighting back scores of brick-throwing chavs: the same force that took money from our so-called free press to pass on case details for nothing better than tabloid sensationalism.

It would be cynical of me to suggest that what's happening now is a distraction to other things going on in the country. It's simply ironic coincidence that the police and media are the cornerstone of the biggest news story of the year. No one's thinking about police bribery. No one's thinking about phone hacking dead children or fallen soldiers. That's a good thing too, because they're unbelievable betrayals of national pride, mourning, and the privacy we all hold dear.

These kids running riot aren't protestors. They're just brazen vandals who loot shops for the things we all work hard for. That's right. We work hard for these things, in the jobs we have. Jobs they don't have, I'll warrant. Jobs that aren't there any more. But they don't want to work, you see? They're too lazy. Well, too lazy to get a job. Not too lazy to raid Currys and make off with a 48" plasma telly and a new Nintendo 3DS that'll be in a pawn shop next week, to the joy of a drug dealer who's had a bit of a quiet time since Amy Winehouse passed away, bless her.

It's all so very very wrong, and it's all so very unbelievable. Apparently. Yet over the last two days I've read comments on news websites, twitter, facebook, and even Yahoo's Questions section that not only point out that the killing of Mark Duggan might not be the reason for the riots, but that the riotous connection with his death is little more than a match being struck in a powderkeg that had been shaken vigorously for over a year.

Whatever you think of what is happening on the streets right now, never forget what is going on in the offices of our apparently beloved Capital. There may be people in tracksuits and hoods wrecking your car or smashing your window, but somewhere high above, there are people in Armani suits and Rolex watches wrecking your economy and smashing your children's dreams.

If you're horrified by the riots, please try to find the time to be horrified by the way this country is run.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Health Matters

It doesn't seem that long ago that the very idea of walking up a steep hill filled me with dread. Those of you who have known me (or just seen pictures of me) over the last twenty years will know that my fitness and my weight have been verified factors in how I cope with life, and how that life affects the people around me. I've been a painfully skinny borderline psychotic drug addict, and I've been an obese mayonnaise addict. I've weighed 112lbs. I've weighed 240lbs. Whichever way you look at it, that's not healthy.

I've been lucky though. Through these problems I've encountered, I've always had people around me who have helped me. Okay, these people have not always been immediately identified, and there were a good number of people who really didn't help at all, but they were there. There wasn't always someone there to pick me up when I was down, or to stop me being a dick, but the main reason for this was not a lack of them trying, but a lack of my acceptance that I was down. It's always easier to think that My Way is the only way.

When I got fat, I had an excuse. I had given up smoking, and one of the things someone had said to me when I announced I was quitting was "Oh food'll taste loads better when you quit!" and I was quite shocked to discover they were right. It did. Especially mayonnaise. That's probably why I ended up putting it on everything, and at one point ate a 400g jar of it with a spoon. I was an ex-smoker with a new interest, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Right up until the point where my knees could barely support my weight, and my back throbbed continuously as internal muscles struggled to support my swollen, stretch-marked belly. Comments about my apparent pregnancy were dismissed with me jiggling my man-boobs or relating the mayo jar incident as if this was a good thing.

The thing about being fat is that it's very easy to find an excuse for it. Okay, I'm prepared to believe people do have medical reasons why they can't shift it, but I also know that a diet of frozen pizza, oven chips, crisps, fizzy pop and kebabs is a reason. My excuse was that I was enjoying my life, and since I'd quit smoking I was considerably healthier. Yeah, right. As a smoker I may have been gasping for breath sometimes, but as a fatty I was too, and it was accompanied by muscle and joint issues, not least the damage I must surely have been doing the heart I'd just helped last longer by quitting cigarettes!

So I started playing tennis and jogging. I cut down the size of my meals, but didn't cut anything out. A kebab became a monthly reward, rather than a regular Saturday accompaniment to too much beer. The weight dropped off in just over a year to the tune of about 60lbs. I ran the Red Nose Mile in less than seven minutes. I felt good about myself in a way I know for a fact I'd never felt before in my life. All this, and I'd started smoking again. Because I wanted to.

There's a curious down-side to how well I did turning my life around though. It's how other people with weight-related health issues respond to it. It usually starts with them saying "You've done so well! How did you do it?" and I tell them. And I can see their eyes glazing over as soon as they realize it's not the result of some miracle diet or magic pill. At the mention of the tennis or the jogging, I can tell almost immediately that they're no longer interested in what I have to say. And on several occasions once I've said my piece they've responded with something like this:

"Oh, well I'd love to do that but I've got a bad back/bad knees/poor circulation/tendonitis/etc."

At first I would point out that yes, I imagine you have. When I first set out on a one mile circuit around hilly Belper I had serious lower back pain, knee trouble, and problems with my achilles tendons. All as a result of being grossly overweight. That first mile was achieved in a time that would have been achieved had I just slowly walked the same distance on a flat road. But that wasn't the point. I knew I had to make my body work, to get my heart rate going, to improve my circulation, and to just start the road to what I was sure would be a better feeling. Because at that time I could barely lift my son, didn't fit in our loft hatch, and had real trouble doing my job effectively.

It hurt. For weeks it hurt. When I played tennis with Mark, I would have moments where I yelped or cried out because something in my back or legs or shoulders felt like it was giving out. I dreaded falling down because I figured my excessive weight would double the severity of any injury. There were no serious ones though. Muscles ached, joints twinged, and sweat poured off me. But so did the pounds. The pain was becoming worth it, and in time the pain subsided.

So here I am three years down the line. I've put a little weight on recently, and it's not through over-eating but less exercise. But I'm essentially around the same weight as the blog's name, I still smoke, and my job gets me out on my feet walking the roads and fields of Derbyshire enough that nowhere tires me out. If I eat fast food, the next meal's always a healthy one, and importantly the people around me let me know when I'm on the slide to previous horrors...

It's all just as well. At the time of writing, my lovely Jayne has a leg broken in three places, and my son Luke has a broken ankle. It's hard to imagine how I would be able to tend to their needs if I was still the fat bloke from not that long ago. Luke's needed to be carried up the stairs into the flat and down again, set in plaster as he is. I'd not manage that. Jayne's been unable to get in and out of the bath safely. I helped her with that, and the delight on her face as she felt the warm water wrap around her was a joy to behold that I wouldn't have appreciated if I was too unhealthy to safely assist in lowering here there. With my back how it used to be I wouldn't even have tried.

I can't imagine how difficult it would be to not be able to give the care I know they need, and this is what prompted me to write this blog. I'd like to think that somewhere out there someone might see this and see it as a call to arms for people who have thought, like I once did, that everything's alright with your life even if there are people in that life who love you who see things very differently. Being healthy is not about giving up fatty foods, cutting out booze, quitting nicotine, or becoming obsessed with exercise. Being healthy means having a standard of life where you are comfortable in yourself, don't need to keep popping to your doctors for painkillers and suchlike, and can achieve simple goals like walking up a hill or carrying a tent into a loft without feeling like your back's about to snap in half or your heart's going to burst.

If not for ourselves, I have come to know that maintaining your health is something for other people. If they need you, and you can't handle it, you have to ask yourself who else is going to be there for them, and for you. I've been lucky.

Have you?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Respecting Your Elders

Forty's a funny age. On the one hand you're very aware that you've reached that point where you know you are considered "old" because you're of grandparenting age (unless you're from Long Eaton, where it's 24) and the telltale signs like crows feet, grey hair, and knowing nothing about chart music are well established. On the other hand, you can look at people twice your age jogging in the parks and riding their bikes to their post-retirement gardening jobs and it hits you that, in the big scheme of modern living, you're actually not even halfway there in the Ready For The Knackers Yard stakes.

Being old really isn't what it used to be. I'm not even sure what exactly it is any more. Worse still, I'm not at all sure old people know what being old is. Or at what point old people start being old...

So it is with some trepidation that I begin this rant against the elderly. The people I'm directly complaining about in the following paragraphs are in some cases no greater an age gap than myself and my own daughter. But that's okay, because to her I'm old. That's as it should be. So let's assume the people I am complaining about are the very same twenty year gap. In other words: people of pensionable age.

This is a complaint about rudeness, lack of manners, ignorance and selfishness. More, it's an account of how people I've known, worked with, and encountered over the years apply all these negative characteristics to that elusive and always fresh constant that is The Youth Of Today. Young people are rude. Young people are ignorant. Young people have no respect. Young people have no manners. What a lot of bullshit. It's just easier to notice the negative than to laud the positive. Besides, young people don't need to have all these characteristics because they're learning society. It doesn't get taught in schools.

Old people have no excuse. In recent years I've noticed it more and more. You won't see an old person hold a door open for you, even if you've got a pushchair to struggle through with. I know, I've been there. Old people will push in front of you rather than queue. They won't let you out in traffic. They'll curse you if you don't let them out. They barge into you with shopping trolleys. They clog up supermarket aisles, chatting. They stop randomly in the street. They're even prone to drinking too much and being prone to shouting abuse. These are all things I've experienced first hand, and I know I'm not alone in this. Nor am I alone in thinking "Yeah, and that's all things those same people accuse the Kids Of Today of doing".

What I find amusing in all this is that when I was properly young (i.e. under 25. After that you're getting old: fact) it seemed to be less of the case, and the wartime elderly always treated youthful rudeness, ignorance and the like with their personal mantra: "I fought in the war for the likes of you!" And they did. They were soldiers, and the wives of soldiers, and land girls, and the backbone of the nation that endured more than any of us will ever imagine. In their way, they had a right to complain, seeing the world change, evolve, go faster and faster, darker and more maligned.

These aren't the elderly I'm complaining about. It's the Baby Boomers they spawned that seem to be the problem. To have the I Fought In The War argument you need to be have been no younger than eighteen at the end of the war. That would make the youngest in their eighties. It's not them. It's the people my parents age - like I said, twenty years my senior - that seem to fit the bill. It's almost like they have no Badge to wear, like their parents did. They didn't fight in a war that shaped the world. They didn't witness daily horror, hardship and struggle. Okay, they endured post-war austerity, but it soon became free love, flower power, the yuppie years and so on, through a Cold War blanket of apathy and greed that I'm well aware my own generation is equally guilty of. But we're not the old folks yet...

For all my complaints here, what of us when we're another twenty down the line? How will we behave? If the wartime generation tried their best to maintain the British stiff-upper-lip against a tide of youth expressing their new found freedom, and that youth has become a generation of bitter, self-indulged, bloody-mindedness expressing only contempt for the world around them, what're we going to be?

Okay, I am generalizing, but I challenge anyone, of any age, not to notice it. Even if you're seventy and reading this - which I know is unlikely as the miserable, self-absorbed fuckers won't have got past me complaining about them - you must have noticed how much more often it is that people sixty+ are the worst culprits. But if their generation's history and place in the development of our nation is anything to judge them by it marks my generation as being about ten times worse by then. Mainly because we don't have the wartime memories, or the sixties mentality (even if we do still have the drugs). We'll be running kids down in the street for taking their time at cash machines. Worse, I imagine my own kids' generation will in their seventies be gunning down teenagers just for looking at them funny.

Still... It'll keep the population at a manageable level.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

I Have A Serious Drink Problem

I think it's time I addressed a fact of my life: I cannot handle booze any more. My apologies if anyone was expecting my usual attempts at humour or social observation, but now is not the time.

Firstly, I would like to take a moment to apologize to the people who matter to me for the behaviour they have had to endure when they have seen me at my drunken worst. I apologize most profusely, because at my worst it is often only them that can identify the behaviour. I have no recollection of it, and while I've seen evidence of it thanks to the age of phone cameras and so on, much of it's anecdotal, and there's been plenty over the years I've not liked the sound (or sight) of.

It's come to a head now. Drunken behaviour has isolated me from someone I really care about, and that's not who I've perceived myself to be. I've been the funny drunk, the passout drunk, the incoherent drunk. But lately it seems when I'm at that point where one of the aforementioned used to come out, it's a combination of the three that can only be classified as fucking idiot drunk. And the humour is only apparent to me. Because it's not funny.

The sad thing is, by "come to a head now" over the last couple of days I've gone back over time and realised that while these moments of fucking idiot drunk aren't that many in number they cover a good ten year period where I know that my actions and attitudes have genuinely offended, upset, or embarrassed people I care about. I like to tell myself I like to make people's lives easier and more fun. But the reality is that time and time again I've taken "fun" to a level where it's made situations at the least uneasy and at the worst volatile. That's not making anyone's life easier!

I've spent the last ten years kidding myself I can drink like I did in my twenties, but there's enough evidence to prove to me that now, at 40, that's just not the case at all anymore. I can't keep up with some people I think I can keep up with. Mixing beer or wine with spirits sends me on a downward spiral of drunkenness that can go from me being cheerfully coherent to passed-out-on-the-floor, either injured or drenched in piss, in a blink of the eye. This is not an easy statement to make, by the way. But I imagine quite a few of you who've taken the time to read this will know it to be true from first-hand evidence one way or the other.

Do I think I'm an alcoholic? Well some websites will tell you I am. But alcoholics I know will tell you otherwise: I'm just being a fucking idiot drunk. Well, it's time to stop. When it gets to the point where your actions start to have a directly negative effect on those around you, you have a problem. I've had problems before, and I've always beaten them. I intend that to continue.

To finish off, I hope that a good number of my friends and family have read this far, even though it might not be a nice thing to have to stick through. But if you have, it's because you're the people who've stuck with me through tough things before, or you're the people who've had some serious problems along similar lines, either directly or indirectly. Most of you I have at some point had to apologise to for something done while drunk. Those apologies seem rather hollow to me since I've repeated the actions time and again, so Gods know how they feel to you.

I am genuinely sorry for being a drunken fucking idiot. It's time to stop.
I love you, Jayney.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Bucking The Playoff Trend

I'm not growing a beard.

Usually I have a shave on the day the Habs begin their (usually only) playoff series and then don't again until they get knocked out. You know... the players do it, some fans do it. I do it.

Only I've decided this year I'm not going to. For one, I know it won't go down well with the girlfriend. And two, I'm pretty sure the last time I did shave during the playoffs throughout was 1993. Which is, y'know, pretty significant if you're a Habs fan. Last year I did some shaving, and went with the whole bright red hair thing, and we made the conference finals.

So this year I've decided I'm not going to do anything. The theory is that we might actually manage to go a bit further, or perhaps maybe all the way. But my theory, like Christianity, is based largely on faith and not any actual physical or useful evidence. And like Christ, I'm pretty sure we're going to get hammered...

Last year I blogged about the influence of Bob Gainey after I criticized him along with a multitude of other Habs fans. This year I'm fully anticipating the imminent need to ditch Kostitsyn and Gomez, possibly in the sea. Stay tuned...

On a final note, I'd just like to say congratulations to the Bruins in advance. I really don't expect us to win, and Boston are superior to us in every department. I also expect Carey Price to be an utter failure.

And yeah, I do believe in the positive aspect of negative thinking.

Or do I?

Friday, 18 March 2011

Every Radioactive Cloud Has A Green Lining

It's terrible what's happened to Japan. What seems more terrible to me at the moment as I browse the news is how the human crisis seems to have been completely overshadowed by the nuclear crisis. Now, okay, the nuclear crisis affects the human crisis, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of information on how everything's being dealt with outside the nuclear plant(s).

On the plus side (and there is always a plus side to any tragedy, whether it's initially obvious or not) the current news items are drawing our attention to what can go wrong in the nuclear power industry, especially when nature plays its part. It's only this last year that the British government have been telling us what a wonderful alternative to burning coal and gas this safe, green nuclear power is. Oh yes, when compared to the possibility of football field sized solar generation plants, wind farms and wave farms which are ugly and spoil the pretty countryside, nuclear power is a safe and green, cost effective alternative that's far removed from the technologies that brought us Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

My arse.

The only way nuclear power is at all green is that you may glow that colour in the dark if you're near it. Regardless of your feelings on nuclear proliferation in the post Cold War world, the reality is that generating power with nuclear energy is never going to be green or safe for the simple fact that it's the human race in charge of it. I mean, who seriously builds a nuclear power station where there's even the slightest risk of a catastrophe being caused naturally? I bet America doesn't have (m)any in their Tornado Alley, and probably not in their own earthquake problem areas either. As far as I can tell, the Fukushima plant was thought up with the same insight and logic as the Titanic.

We're okay here in the UK though aren't we? We don't get earthquakes, tornadoes and tsunamis. Well we do, but not anything like you'd notice. When we do, it's a last-placed and often comedic item on the news, usually accompanied by some mobile phone footage you've already seen on YouTube, such is the curiosity when such events occur. Look at the funny wind thing... Oh, it's gone. Ooh, some slates have fallen off some rooves and a cat got scared. What strange times these are.

But we're not okay. Because if technology has taught us one thing, it's that while it is never infallible, human beings are even more fallible. A tsunami or earthquake can do damage, but so can scary people with wild ideas about how the world should work according to their ridiculous notions of God and Destiny. If we can be complacent enough to build nuclear plants on dangerously unstable ground, we can be complacent enough to assume everything's going to be okay on the UK coastline. Which is alright until something actually happens.

No, I think when all's said and done I would rather see our hillsides and moorland dotted with big grey three-armed monsters than have even the slightest chance of what we're seeing in Japan become a reality here. Nuclear power is not, never has been, and never will be a green technology, and even suggesting it is compared to existing coal and gas generation is like saying driving under the influence of a litre of vodka is the safer alternative to driving with a litre of whiskey inside you. Because whether you really care about saving the planet (saving ourselves we mean - the planet will be better off without us) or not, we're going to keep on breeding, keep up the greed, keep building on croplands, and we're actually more likely to run out of food before we run out of air, fuel, ice or drinking water.

I wonder how many safe green nuclear power plants Japan will be (re)building once this sorry story's over?